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A More Promising Palestinian Breakthrough

Egypt lets the Palestinians in.

By Petrarch  |  January 24, 2008

Reuters reports:

Thousands of Palestinians flood into Egypt to stock up on life's essentials after militants destroyed parts of a border wall.  Egyptian border guards didn't intervene. Palestinian police from Gaza's ruling Hamas group also stood by - watching the surge but doing nothing to stop it. It comes after days of protests by Gaza Palestinians angered by Israel's blockade of the impoverished territory since Friday. Residents in Rafah say members of Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees were among the gunmen who blew up the wall. Hamas officials deny involvement - but say it was impossible to prevent.

This event has offered us a fascinating spectacle of impoverished people gleefully bashing through a barrier while uniformed officials stand idly by.  Apart from the clothes and the weather, it's quite reminiscent of another similar occasion in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunited.

The similarities are striking; but so are the contrasts.  The Berlin Wall was built by the East Germans at the behest of their Soviet masters, to keep the people in.  West Berlin, and West Germany, had no objection to people coming across; in fact, generally speaking, they encouraged it, and even helped where politics permitted.  The Communists rightly feared that if free transit were permitted, though, all their subjects would leave, and they'd have nobody left to boss around - which is pretty much what happened in 1989, and the dictatorship collapsed forthwith.

The Gaza Wall, in contrast, was not built by the Palestinian Authority to keep its subjects in; quite the contrary.  It was built by others to keep them out.  And therein lies both the cause, and the solution, to the longstanding Palestinian question.

It's not news that Arab Muslims and Israeli Jews, in general, don't get along very well.  As the poet Robert Frost so wisely pointed out, "Good fences make good neighbors"; and insofar as walls provide a clear line of demarcation, and reduce attacks from one side to another, they are a good thing.  That's been the case with the wall Israel has been constructing in the West Bank, with a corresponding decrease in terrorism.

That's not the purpose of the Gaza Wall, though.  It separates the Gaza Strip, not from Israel, but from Egypt.  Now, there's no logical reason why that should be nearly the bone of contention that it is, since both Egypt and the Gaza Strip are overwhelmingly Muslim and Arab.  There's no history of hatred there.

The wall has been cast as an Israeli requirement, in order to prevent the Palestinians from freely smuggling in heavy weapons and missiles with which to assault Israel; and so indeed it is.  But this is a comparatively recent phenomenon.

The reason for the wall - in fact, the real reason for the presence of a border there at all - has been to keep the Palestinians out of the rest of the Arab world, and trapped in their tiny hole - not by the desire of the Israelis, but as a tool of Arabian leaders.

As long as the Palestinians live in misery in their isolated, collapsing corner, the Arab world can use them as a stick to beat Israel with.  Apartheid!  Racists!  Nazis!

We hear the demands every day for Israel to freely provide them fuel, electricity, markets, money, jobs, all the stuff of life and economics.  This is even while improvised missiles rain down daily on Israeli towns, and Hamas suicide bombers regularly rip apart buses, nightclubs, and restaurants in Israeli cities.  What sort of rational reason would there be, for any nation to give valuable goods to another group which is actively at war with them?  It's insanity, but that is what is demanded, and the support for the demand is the sympathetic pictures of suffering Palestinian children.

Yet the solution is ready at hand, and always has been.  The Arab world is not a small place.  It covers a territory the size of a large chunk of the United States.

Israel, however, is about the size of New Hampshire, a state which is ridiculed for its effect on American presidential politics despite its small size.  And both the West Bank and particularly Gaza are far smaller even than that - the size of typical American counties.  Yet the Arab world has kept the Palestinians trapped in there all these years?

Consider for a moment, if we had a county in New Hampshire which did not get along with the other residents of that state.  Would it make sense to keep them stuck in there, cheek by jowl with their enemies?

Of course not!  We'd say, look folks, there's the entire rest of the United States to move to, find someplace else more appealing - and in fact, that's exactly what happened with the Mormons, and how they came to be in Utah and not the Midwest.

At one time, the relations between the Mormons and their neighbors were quite similar to those between the Muslim Palestinians and the Jewish Israelis, with massacres in both directions. But add a little space between them, and a little time, and now we all get along fairly well, throwing verbal insults at the very worst.

If you accept (as does the UN and the US) that Israel has a right to exist in the first place, it is in no way the fault of Israel that the Palestinians have been bottled up in Gaza for a half-century.  What are they supposed to do, allow Hamas to overrun the entire country, instead of just the border areas within range or the unlucky targets of infiltrating suicide bombers?

The plight of the Palestinians is the fault, pure and simple, of the enormously larger Arab world that has not let them come out and settle elsewhere peaceably - because politically, the Arab rulers preferred to have the festering boil of Palestine as a distraction from their other problems.

Today, it would appear that the Egyptians at least have changed their mind on this point.  Not only are they freely allowing the Palestinians entry, the government has announced it won't make them go back.

This the best possible news, and most unexpected!  The ideal situation for peace in the Middle East would be if all the Palestinians left, and settled down somewhere else.  They would nurse a grievance; but their children would get caught up in their new lives, and their grandchildren would neither know nor care.  And voila!  The problem, if not entirely solved, at least is no longer an active war.

It's pretty ironic that George W Bush, lambasted as the destroyer of peace in the Middle East, may preside over the most welcome development there since the Second World War, and not because of anything done by him, or Israel, or the Palestinian "leaders," or any diplomats or politicians at all.